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First Name: Michael

Last Name: Thornton

Birthplace: Greenville, SC, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Home of Record: Spartanburg, SC
Middle Name: Edwin

Date of Birth: 23 March 1949

Rank or Rate: Lieutenant

Years Served: 1967-1992
Michael Edwin Thornton

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Michael Edwin Thornton
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Lieutenant Michael Edwin Thornton is a retired U.S. Navy officer and SEAL who is a recipient of the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the medal for saving the life of his senior officer, Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, who would also earn the Medal of Honor in an unrelated incident.

Michael Edwin Thornton was born on 23 March 1949, in Greenville, SC. Thornton graduated from high school in 1967 and enlisted in the Navy later that year in Spartanburg. He served aboard destroyers as a gunner's mate apprentice until November 1968, when he began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL School. Upon graduation, he was assigned to SEAL Team 1 and began a series of tours in Southeast Asia which ran from 1 January 1970 to December 1972.

By the last quarter of 1972, U.S. involvement in the region had waned and Thornton, by then a Petty Officer, was one of only a dozen SEALs remaining in Vietnam. On 31 October of that year, he participated in a mission to capture prisoners and gather intelligence from the Cua Viet River Base near the coast of Quảng Trị Province, just south of the Demilitarized Zone. In addition to Thornton, the mission team consisted of another SEAL, Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, and three men from the LDNN, the South Vietnamese equivalent of Navy SEALs. Approaching by sea, the group was transported by junk until sunset, then paddled a rubber boat to within a mile of shore and swam the remaining distance. Moving inland past numerous North Vietnamese encampments, the group reconnoitered through the night.

When morning dawned, the 5-man group realized that they had landed too far north and were actually in North Vietnam. They made their way toward the coast but were spotted by a group of 50 soldiers, beginning an intense five-hour battle. When the group's commander, Lieutenant Norris, was severely wounded, Thornton ran through heavy fire to rescue him. He then carried the unconscious Norris into the water and began swimming out to sea. When one of the LDNNs was wounded, Thornton supported him in the water as well. He swam with the two injured men for more than two hours before being picked up by the same junk which had dropped them off the night before. For these heroic, lifesaving actions, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Petty Officer, U.S. Navy, Navy Advisory Group.

Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 31 October 1972.

Entered service at: Spartanburg, SC. Born: 23 March 1949, Greenville, SC.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a daring operation against enemy forces. PO Thornton, as Assistant U.S. Navy Advisor, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as Senior Advisor, accompanied a 3-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy-occupied naval river base. Launched from a Vietnamese Navy junk in a rubber boat, the patrol reached land and was continuing on foot toward its objective when it suddenly came under heavy fire from a numerically superior force. The patrol called in naval gunfire support and then engaged the enemy in a fierce firefight, accounting for many enemy casualties before moving back to the waterline to prevent encirclement. Upon learning that the Senior Advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead, PO Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant's last position; quickly disposed of 2 enemy soldiers about to overrun the position, and succeeded in removing the seriously wounded and unconscious Senior Naval Advisor to the water's edge. He then inflated the lieutenant's lifejacket and towed him seaward for approximately 2 hours until picked up by support craft. By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, PO Thornton was directly responsible for saving the life of his superior officer and enabling the safe extraction of all patrol members, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

The Medal of Honor was formally presented to Thornton by President Richard Nixon during a ceremony at the White House on 15 October 1973. The man Thornton rescued, Thomas Norris, survived his wounds and was awarded the Medal of Honor during the same ceremony for his April 1972 rescue of Lt. Col Iceal Hambleton, and 1st Lt. Mark Clark, from behind enemy lines.

Thornton received a commission in 1982 as a Limited Duty Officer and retired as a Lieutenant. He currently sits on the Board of Advisors for Veterans Direct.

Medals, Awards & Badges

Medal of Honor
Silver Star Medal
Bronze Star Medal with Combat Valor Device (3 awards)
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Valor Device (2 awards)
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
Combat Action Ribbon with Gold Award Star (2 awards)
Navy Presidential Unit Citation with 2 Service Stars (3 awards)
Navy Unit Commendation with 2 Service Stars (3 awards)
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation with Service Star (2 awards)
Navy Good Conduct Medal with Service Star (2 awards)
Navy Expeditionary Medal
National Defense Service Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars (3 awards)
Vietnam Service Medal with 1 Silver and 2 Bronze Service Stars (7 campaigns)
Southwest Asia Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star (1 campaign)
Humanitarian Service Medal
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Division Citation with Silver Star
Vietnam Staff Service Medal
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm
Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation with Palm
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Navy Expert Rifleman Medal
Navy Expert Pistol Medal Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal
SEAL Badge
Surface Warfare Officer Badge
Diving Officer Badge

Honoree ID: 32   Created by: MHOH




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